Not everybody who goes on a skiing holiday wants or is able to ski or snowboard, and the bigger your family or party of friends, the more likely it is that you’ll have a winter sports refusenik in your ranks. And even die-hard powder-hunters sometimes want to take time away from the slopes and do something different. So what else is there to do on a typical skiing holiday in a traditional ski resort? We take a look at some of the choices in our favourite North American destinations…
Love dogs? Many winter ski destinations offer the opportunity to wrap up in a thick blanket, sit back in a traditional dog sled and head out into the snow-frosted forest led by a team of beautiful Siberian or Alaskan Huskies and Malamutes. Some, like the dog teams at Mammoth Mountain in California, even offer overnight camping trips into the Sierra Backcounty via dog sled at selected times of year, while others such as Wilderness Adventuresat Lake Tahoe run hour-long sunset and moonlight tours through the beautiful Squaw Valley Meadow.
If you want to be in the driving seat, then consider gliding over groomed trails through towering aspen and pine on a snowmobiling tour. Whether you’re a seasoned-pro or a complete novice, snowmobiling is effortless to master, and in the company of expert guides you’ll soon be breathing in the mountain air and enjoying the scenery. Still in Lake Tahoe, Eagle Ridge offer guided trips (including overnighters) with panoramic views over the Sierra Valley, or escape into the heart of the Colorado Rockies on a snowmobile tour with Trailblazer Snowmobile Tours in Winter Park. Check that your chosen operator always stays on marked trails, away from wildlife and human habitats, and uses 4-stroke rather than 2-stroke engines (or electric).
If you’re travelling with young children, an enchanting sleigh ride through miles of snowy forest is a magical experience, especially on one of the red, handcrafted sleighs belonging to Breckenridge Sleigh Rides who will transport you and your family into a frosty winter wonderland on one of their festive rides. Kids are often invited up front to help drive the horses; exclusive tours to celebrate a birthday or anniversary can also be arranged.
In the almost-too-good-to-be-true setting of Canada’s Lake Louise, Brewster Adventures offer cosy horse-drawn sleigh rides all the way along the lakeside trail, departing from the lakefront at Chateau Lake Louise. In Whistler-Blackcomb the sound of jingle bells is all you’ll hear on the old-fashioned bob sleighs drawn by the stately Percheron draft horses of Blackcomb Sleighrides. They plod through the trails on Blackcomb Mountain to a cosy mountain cabin, from where you’ll be able to view the twinkling lights of Whistler over a mug of hot chocolate.
Thermal Baths and Hot Springs
There’s nothing like sinking into the bubbling warmth of a natural hot springs pool on a cold winter’s day, especially when said pool is sheltering deep in the heart of a snowy, pine-clad mountain landscape. At the magical Strawberry Park Hot Springs, near Steamboat Springs in Colorado, the air may be freezing but the mineral waters are 104 degrees fahrenheit and you’ll find it hard to tell your own breath from the steam rising from the water.
For a slightly less rustic experience, Banff Upper Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies is an excellent 1930s-built pool and bathhouse, perfect for a long relaxing soak. Whether you have sore thighs from whizzing downhill all day or sore arms from taking the reins of your dog sled, this spring-fed hot pool with views of Mount Rundle will ease your aching limbs and is a wonderful place for stargazing.
Shopping and Spa
If you’re looking for more of an indoor relaxation experience, it would be easy to while away an entire day in a full-service spa. Many established ski resorts are home to high-end spa hotels, and even if you’re not staying at one yourself, most will allow you to book in as a day guest. Fairmont Hotels in Banff, Whistler and Tremblant all welcome day visitors, as do the Montbleu Spa Resort in Lake Tahoe and the Beaver Run in Breckenridge.
Shopping in a ski resort can sometimes be hit and miss, with many resorts full of the same familiar line-up of winter sports equipment, sunglasses and clothing stores. Others, however, have a much broader appeal. The Canadian ski resort towns of Tremblant and Whistler are particularly renowned for the number and variety of shops on offer. Breckenridge in Colorado has an old-fashioned main street lined with more than 200 independent stores, boutiques and galleries selling everything from organic handmade toiletries to authentic Navajo weavings. The quintessential New England village and ski resort of Stowe in Vermont has an abundance of quirky little stores selling handcrafted jewellry, speciality Vermont foods and local art.
For an amazing North American winter holiday perfectly suited to both skiers and non-skiers, book a flight to one of Virgin Atlantic’s USA cities or check out the wide range of destinations on offer from Virgin Holidays.